July 27th, 2012
04:33 PM ET

Time to face facts on gun control

By Fareed Zakaria

It has now been just over a week since a lone gunman opened fire on moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. The airwaves have been dominated by soul searching.

Most of the pundits have concluded that the main cause of this calamity is the dark, strange behavior of the gunman. Talking about anything else, they say, is silly. The New York Times’ usually extremely wise columnist, David Brooks, explains that this is a problem of psychology, not sociology.

At one level, this makes sense, of course, as the proximate cause. But really, it’s questionable analysis. Think about this: are there more lonely people in America compared with other countries? Are there, say, fewer depressed people in Asia and Europe? So why do they all have so much less gun violence than we do?

The United States stands out from the rest of the world not because it has more nutcases – I think we can assume that those people are sprinkled throughout every society equally –but because it has more guns.

Look at the map below. It shows the average number of firearms per 100 people. Most of the world is shaded light green – those are the countries where there are between zero and 10 guns per 100 citizens. In dark brown, you have the countries with more than 70 guns per 100 people. The U.S. is the only country in that category. In fact, the last global Small Arms Survey showed there are 88 guns for every 100 Americans. Yemen is second at 54. Serbia and Iraq are among the other countries in the top 10.

We have 5 percent of the world's population and 50 percent of the guns.

But the sheer number of guns isn’t an isolated statistic. The data shows we compare badly on fatalities, too.  The U.S has three gun homicides per 100,000 people. That’s four times as many as Switzerland, ten times as many as India, 20 times as many as Australia and England.

Whatever you think of gun rights and gun control, the numbers don’t flatter America.

I saw an interesting graph in The Atlantic magazine recently. A spectrum shows the number of gun-related deaths by state. Now if you add one more piece of data – gun control restrictions – you see that the states with at least one firearm law (such as an assault weapons ban or trigger locks) tend to be the states with fewer gun-related deaths.

Conclusion? Well, there are lots of factors involved, but there is at least a correlation between tighter laws and fewer gun-related deaths.

I've shown you data comparing countries, and comparing states. Now consider the U.S. over time. Americans tend to think the U.S. is getting more violent. In a recent Gallup survey, 68 percent said there’s more crime in the U.S. than there was a year ago. Well, here’s what I found surprising: the U.S. is actually getting safer. In the decade since the year 2000, violent crime rates fell by 20 percent; aggravated assault by 22 percent; motor vehicle theft by 42 percent; murder – by all weapons – by 13 percent.

But guns are the exception. Gun homicide rates haven’t improved at all. They were at roughly the same levels in 2009 as they were in 2000. Meanwhile, serious but non-fatal gun injuries caused during assault have actually increased in the last decade by 20 percent, as guns laws have gotten looser and getting automatic weapons has become easier.

We are the world’s most heavily-armed civilian population. One out of every three Americans knows someone who has been shot.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but not to his or her own facts. Saying that this is all a matter of psychology is a recipe for doing nothing. We cannot change the tortured psychology of madmen like James Holmes. What we can do is change our gun laws.

Should U.S. gun laws be tougher? What would you change?


soundoff (2,982 Responses)
  1. ZX6RR

    Just what the government and criminals wants, more UNARMED citizens

    Where are the stats that show where guns were used by lawful citizens to stop a crime?

    July 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Reply
  2. Retired cop

    Remember! The American Revolution would have never happened without armed citizens. As a madder of fact, some of the American Citizens hunting fifles were better than the muskets the British redcoats had.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Reply
    • Emax

      "matter of fact". See spelling comment above.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Reply
      • chad

        Emax, do you have a life? Get a gun and become a real policeman. Its obvious you are good at being a grammar and spelling policeman. lol

        July 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
      • JC in Western U.S.

        Chad, like it or not, reading and writing well in your own language is important. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation either help to convey your point, and establish you as credible, or they work against you. Sometimes, we grammar nazis just can't help ourselves. But other times, we want people to know the error they've made so that they can avoid it in the future. People usually don't want to appear inarticulate and don't want to use one word when they mean another. Most adults, when they have made an error that wasn't obviously just a typo, want to know it. Nobody wants to look like they don't have a good command of their own language, and no one wants to be thought of as uneducated, especially when they are trying to make a convincing argument in one or two sentences...Which I personally can't seem to do in less than ten... LOL.

        July 29, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  3. Steveds

    Ok, now show us a graph highlighting crimes stopped by guns worldwide. I bet we win again. =-)

    July 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Reply
  4. Mike

    Obviously, we need to take away the rights of the majority so that we can save the three thousandths of a percent of Americans that are currently being killed by firearms but who could just as easily have been stabbed had the criminals who killed them not been able to buy a gun somehow. While we're at it, perhaps we should take a good strong look at banning personal motor vehicles, who kill 11.68 per 100,000 Americans each year... nearly four times the firearm homicide death rate.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Reply
    • Retired cop

      Next we will be eating steak with plastic forks and riding bikes to work.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Reply
  5. Peter Hernandez

    I believe we have to change the narrative of this conversation to have any success...We should be talking about Gun "Safety" (not "Control")....think about it...and pass it on...

    July 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  6. Name*Jimi

    Take the guns away from law abiding citizens and what you get is a well armed criminal population no matter how the laws change criminals will find a way to get guns all you hard liners listen up stop letting the criminals out of jails and prisons 25 years is 25 years not 8 with good behavior improve on the judicial system bottom line that said. Don't tread on me!

    July 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  7. Steve

    No one asked you for your opinion, raghead!

    July 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Reply
  8. foreigner

    Coming from another country, it's obvious that Americans are addicted to guns. Why? Don't you have anything else to do?

    July 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Reply
    • ski2xs

      Yeah, we like to park with our girlfriends on a nice moonlit night. . . . .oh. . . . . and drink good beer.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  9. Another NRA Member

    Well, now that we know, if you believe the media, that Holmes was at least for some period before the shooting that he was under a psyc doctors care and getting meds. I know that this is not the first time that this has happened. Maybe that should be part of the background check before the purchase of a firearm.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  10. Ed

    Let's see. Zakaria says there are 88 guns per 100 people in the USA, but the homicide rate is only .003%. One thing those numbers prove is that the vast majority of guns are not being used to kill people. On the other hand, pretty much all of the mass killers of recent years have had a history of serious mental illness. This suggests problems in the ineffective treatment of serious mental illness and problems in allowing the mentally ill to obtain firearms. Firearms do not mix well with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychosis, paranoia and depression. When was the last time you saw a mental health professional prosecuted for failure to report a dangerously psychotic patient?

    July 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Reply
  11. steve

    Guns don't kill people – people do. We have all heard this. A gun , of any type, doesn't make you upset, or crazy, or suicidal. Owning one doesn't change your behaviour, good or bad. It is simply a resource or a tool that can be used for good or for bad. Why does everyone try to blame the tool, over the person? We have lost all sense of accountability in this country – the greatest and most free country on earth. If someone does something horrible with a rock, a knife, a car, or a gun the fault lies with them, and with potentially even society – his family, his upbringing, his/her lack of self control or idea of responsibility to the human race. Everyone needs to remember that we are each in control of our own actions – no tool or resource forces us to do anything. Guns can make destruction far more easier – but the disturbed person will find a way to turn anything into a weapon. if a crazy person decides to ram a bus full of children off a bridge – do we ban cars? I think what happened in colorado is beyond awful. But outside of banning all weapons – from hunting rifles to shotguns to pistols – it still happens because of the lack of humanity of one person.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
    • 600,000 registered hunters in just one state

      “ But I will accept any rules that you feel
      necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what
      rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate
      them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I
      am free because I know that I alone am morally
      responsible for everything I do.”

      July 29, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Reply
  12. cnnwatcher15

    Typical Zakaria, play fast and loose with the facts, loose all credibility and wonder why.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  13. 600,000 registered hunters in just one state

    600,000 registered hunters in just one state multiply that by our 50 states and you have the world's largest standing army. Pretty good odds that these are your every day USA citizens that stand by Law and Order. While just one person with a gun brings out all these people that would reduce the largest standing army to nothing. But you all have a nice day. 🙂

    July 29, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Reply
  14. Freako

    Hi Fareed,
    Rather than discuss your graphs which are always skewed in your favor (Are these numbers about legally owned guns? Does Yemen even have a registry for legally owned weapons? How much of India's population can afford an American made firearm?), I want to inquire the correllation you make between this sick deranged individual and gun laws. Does Colorado have a 'conceal and carry" law? Would a strict gun law prevent this man who was able to aquire or produce explosives, trip wires, electronic triggering devices , (He was like a Wiley e. Coyote) and other materials used for his endeavor, not be able to aquire firearms? Would it stop him from dying his hair orange, booby-trapping his appartment, turning up the volume on his stereo as he left, sending a package to shrink to be recieved after the weekend, going to a theater at midnight when police are elsewhere, positioning his self at the main entrance, dispersing to gas canisters into the darkened room, and shooting every person he could whether the were fleeing, hiding our begging for their lives? You have taken a horrific incident and exploited it to strengthen the opinion you had before. This isn't the first time something like this has happened. A short time ago, there was another whack job who walked up to a church and opened fire, killing and wounding many. Before he could kill more, a brave woman entrusted to protect these people took out her hand gun and shot that psycho dead. Why don't you include this story in your future article?

    July 29, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  15. NIck

    The 2nd Amendments true purpose is never brought up in the media, and most of the population is completely ignorant of it's purpose. It was crafted by the founders to be the last stand against a tyrannical government, not to hunt and shoot targets. Our nation was founded on civilians violently overthrowing a central government in the name of liberty and freedom. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, " The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants". Without the 2nd amendment, all our freedoms could be taken and we would be left without recourse. It's the cornerstone.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  16. Jim

    I'm not worried about the house burning down, but I do own a fully loaded fire extinguisher. We are ultimatley responsible for our own safety and well being. To rely on others is foolish.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Reply
  17. Elmer

    Obviously a purposeful lie to further the agenda, when the writer states "automatic weapons are becoming easier to obtain"- he knows that automatic weapons are very difficult to obtain, since they were banned from civilians in the 1930's- but again CNN proves facts don't matter to them- it's about forwarding the Dem agenda.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Reply
  18. Steezmo

    Fareed laws are just a piece of paper with ink on it...explain how this will PHYSICALLY stop someone from buying a gun.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  19. Another NRA Member

    If someone is looking for Utopia where there is no crime they will be disappointed. There is no country that is free of crime. For one simple reason, humans are the same no matter where they are. Deep down they have the same wants and are willing to do what it takes to got them. There are different beliefs as to how to do this.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  20. fubarack Obamadinejad

    People with a fear of guns could always move to another country.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  21. Elmer

    This is why CNN's ratings are so miserable- they're just a press arm for the Bama administration and the Dems- the other day they did a story on Sarah Palin and the intro music was a song called "stupid girl"- there's no journalistic integrity here at all- just a coincidence I'm sure.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Reply
  22. Ronny

    FACT: The U.S. by far has more gun sales and owners in the world. FACT: The U.S. by far has more gun-related crimes and deaths in the world. FACT: Nations with the least gun ownership and sales ALSO have the least gun-related deaths and crimes in the world. FACT: Conceal & carry does not even minutely reduce or prevent gun crime instances. (Data gathered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics study of reported U.S. crimes from 1975-2005). Ironically, it's this arrogant, he-man, outdated, and archaic idea that gun ownership, especially automatic assault weapons, that is the VERY reason why the U.S. leads the world in gun deaths every year. But, who cares about that...or Aurora...or Columbine, or Tucson, etc...we just gotta have our guns!!! That called "blind reasoning." And we call ourselves the most intelligent species on earth. I beg to differ. Meanwhile, FACT: Thanks to the NRA, we can all look forward to many, many more Auroras, Columbines, Tucsons, and thousands of other gun crimes and deaths every year.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Reply
  23. islesmetsgiantsceltsfan

    Gun violence is higher because there are more guns. Yes that is true. But does that mean if guns went away crime would disappear? I doubt it. Many Americans now and in the past were held up with other weapons. Oklahoma CIty happened not with guns, but with fertilizer and gas. Should we ban those products? This guy wired his apartment up not with guns, but with chemicals he easily obtained in the supermarkets. If a maniac wants to kill someone, they will.

    Now I agree, some controls are necessary. I watched AR-15 and AK-47's being fired yesterday and they are extremely powerful weapons compared to the .22 semi-auto rifles I was shooting. Should there be stricter control on how many shots can be fired? I believe there should. 10 max. Should we control ammunition purchases? Probably. Should we limit or eliminate the type of ammunition to citizens can purchase like armor piercing bullets that that can kill police officers or law enforcement officials? Yes. Should we control how many guns are purchased at 1 time? Yes. Should we control gun purchases at gun shows where 40% of sales are made without background checks? Yes.

    I am not a gun owner. I am considering it though for both target shooting and protection. I live in NY. I can tell you if I want to get a permit, I need to fill out a application from the sheriff's office, have the sheriff interview my wife + 3 references. I can not use a current police officer in my county as a reference. I must be fingerprinted and have a background check. And it will take 6 months. Plus I believe if I want a handgun there is a mandatory waiting period. Is that excessive? I believe it is. They have made it extremely difficult to get a gun. And yet in NYC there was a ton of gun violence in the last few weeks, many shots fired from young adults or teenagers. Now the focus was on a kid getting killed or why it happened but I seriously doubt those were legal guns.

    Is showing a drivers license and getting a gun in an hour sufficient? In my opinion, no. That needs to get tougher but denying a citizen a handgun for 6 months? Ridiculous.

    I believe even NRA members would be in favor of tighter gun laws but one problem is the patchwork of laws not only in the country but in a State. This tragedy happened in a state where I beleive you can carry a concealed weapon but this particular county doesn't recognize that law. However I have heard state law takes precedence. I am not totally sure. My understanding is private property can dictate whether weapons can be brought in. I am not sure if the movie theatre had specific rules not to carry. So law abiding people in general will take the more passive approach so as to not break the law. And yet a criminal who doesn't care about the law can do what he wants without worrying. Now I am not certain having say 20 people in the theatre packing guns returning fire would have been good. I tend to believe potentially more people would have been killed. More shots from people with not a lot of training easily could hit others. If you see the killer and then see another guy shooting closer to your seat maybe you aim at him. However would the thought that 20 people may have guns have detered this man? Possibly.

    We need to have a serious debate about gun laws. Guns are not going away. If we stopped production today there are still an excess of guns around. I still believe in a states rights to determine what it takes to get a gun BUT those rules should apply to the whole state. I can get a certain permit in my county. I live less than 10 miles from the next county. Slightly different rules. NYC forget it. Try getting a permit there. Not any common sense. I without a permit can go to a range and fire AK-47's and AR-15's but not a handgun. Just across Long Island Sound in Connecticut I can. For a permit in Connecticut you need to take NRA type safety courses before you get a license. Here in my County, I have to wait 6 months but then buy what I want without a safety course.

    Responsible gun ownership is a good thing. Can we or should we put some reasonable limits on it? Yes but lets get the facts straight before we just make blanket statements that all people that believe in guns, even those high powered semi-auto rifles are nut jobs.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Reply
  24. mike

    Fareed,
    As educated as you are I can't believe you believe that people kill people, not guns. If you want to look at gun control look at Nazi Germany, how would you like to have the government take you and your family on a cattle car with a rendevous with a death camp with no way to defend yourself. Also, an AK-47 is no different in form and function from a Deer hunting rifle, i'm a U.S Marine, do you know what an AK-47 stands for? Evil happens, bad things happen to people, I think that if half the people were able to carry an AK-47 in the movie theatre that day, this maniac would have had second thoughts, or wouldn't have been as effective on his initial assault.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Reply
  25. Travis

    OK geniuses, here's one for you. Google it if you can read past an 8th grade level. What are the odds that a gun in the home will kill someone who lives in the home as opposed to the ever-present "intruder" loaded to the nuts with guns?
    Mr. Zakaria was maybe being nice, but maybe he should suggest that gun ownership should be tied to intelligence. Making people pass a basic IQ test alone before getting a gun would likely markedly decrease gun violence deaths. (Have you ever stood by the gun counter at Cabela's? Idiots galore). The issue is not sociology or psychology, it's stupidity. Some people are just too stupid to own guns. Many of the comments posted here make this point quite clearly.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Reply
    • ski2xs

      Some people are too stupid to make public comments. Should we use that to deny their 1st?

      July 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Reply
    • Frank

      Right on the money. Sometimes we overlook this issue of intelligence. I have seen all kinds of stupid behavior at the range and elsewhere. So yes, the problem is not owning guns, is who owns them and how responsible they are. And how trained. Most people who keep a gun in the house probably can't remember the last time they went to a gun range. Those are probably the ones we read about getting shot with their own guns. AS we always say, owning a piano does not mean you can play Chopin – or Chopsticks.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Reply
    • ZX6RR

      gun ownership should be tied to intelligence???? LMAO James Holmes the Aurora shooter was going for his Phd !!!!!

      July 29, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Reply
  26. Elmer

    FACT- I'm not going to hope and pray that a cop shows up in time to protect my family or property-I'm going to do it myself- because I believe it is MY responsibility first and foremost. Many times, the Cops just "fill out the report" in the horrible aftermath- that is your right to be in that report as much as it is mine not to be.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply
  27. Lonnie Adkins

    Leave our gun rights alone!

    July 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply
  28. Frank

    Well, if FACTS is what this article is about, then Mr Zakaria missed a couple of things. While he puts Switzerland at the bottom of the graph in terms of gun related deaths, he fails (and I am sure it is because he forgot) to mention the fact that die to the militia system they have, there is an automatic rifle in the household of every male. I used to see people leave their apartment buildings and get on trams with their kit and their rifle over their shoulders.

    Then there is Vermont, the state no one likes to include in these discussions. No gun control, lower crime rate than most states in the nation.

    People who do not own guns, don't hunt, don't practice shooting sports tend to see gun owners as nutcases about to go off at any time. Cases like this in Colorado help to further that idea. But then there are the rest of us, law abiding citizens. A great deal of people at my company own weapons, for hunting or sport, and they are all respectable members of society.

    While I do acknowledge the issue of gun violence and the need for proper training and so forth, putting us in league with countries like Afghanistan for gun ownership and ignoring Switzerland just goes to prove that it is too easy to make this a black and white issue, particularly when you are only familiar with one side of it.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  29. JC in Western U.S.

    I think that it is no more possible to confiscate all weapons in the U.S. than it is to find and deport all illegal immigrants in the U.S. Any attempt to do either would result in unprecedented violence.

    But we can and should regulate ammunition and make tracing it to the person who purchased it easy. We have the technology to do that. It's called "microtaggant" technology. Any interested person can find out more about it by doing an internet search. We also should have graduated gun licenses, so that only the most experienced people who have shown through training, experience, and strict adherence to law, that they can be trusted to own semi-automatic weapons are able to purchase them. My suggestions in no way limit gun enthusiasts from owning and using weapons and that is all that the 2nd amendment guarantees. The amendment has no language forbidding common sense regulations regarding our right to prevent, limit, and solve gun related crime.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Reply
    • ski2xs

      We have the technology to pull that projectile from the casing too and reload with a cast. Right? Now, what just happened to the microtag?

      July 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Reply
    • JC in Western U.S.

      Ski – First of all I'm worried about criminals, not about law abiding citizens. Criminals don't often re-load their bullets. But, even those people who do reload, have to use powder. It's the powder that is tagged with the microtaggant pellets. If your bullets don't generally end up at a crime scene, you don't have anything to worry about. But your comment does demonstrate that too many people are quick to find reasons to dispute or argue against anything that links them to their guns or their ammunition, even at the cost of many thousands of lives lost to gun crime.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Reply
  30. Jeff

    Fewer crimes of spontaneity or impulse would occur if there were fewer guns.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Reply
    • ZX6RR

      R-i-g-h-t ..... now future killers will be forced to plan in detail the manner in which they will hurt a law abiding citizen BECAUSE they too turned in their firearms because of stricter gun laws.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Reply
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